How does a person who hates the fellowship of believers, the visible body of
Christ, suddenly have a change of heart so as to love them so much that they
cannot be kept from joining, associating, and cleaving to them?
The simple answer is the sovereign grace of God.
In Acts 9:26 we read…
“And when he had come to Jerusalem, he was trying to associate with the
disciples; and they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a
The “he” is none other than the apostle Paul. And his life is a clear example of
the effects of sovereign grace poured into the heart of a man who once was “a
persecutor of the church,” and who was graciously met by the Lord on the way to
Damascus. This man Saul persecuted those who had already joined the new covenant
community known as “disciples” and “believers.” And on his way to Damascus, Saul
was met by the sovereign Christ. Saul was questioned by the “voice” saying,
“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”
So, who was Paul? Paul was first Saul – the PENULTIMATE Pharisee (Philippians
3:4-6, 2 Corinthians 11:22). Saul was an accomplice to the martyring of Stephen,
the first Christian martyr (Acts 7:58). Saul led the “the great persecution”
against the church in Jerusalem, “ravaging the church,” “dragging off men and
women” who were members of the Jerusalem church into prison (Acts 8:1-3).
Christ made it clear to this “young man” named Saul that to hate, persecute,
imprison, and murder “believers” and “disciples” was the same as hating,
persecuting, imprisoning, and murdering Him (Acts 9:1-6, 13, 14). And after his
encounter with Christ, this young man also having received back his sight, and
having been filled with the Spirit of God, was then baptized (v. 17, 18).
Was this young man really a changed man? We see the same pattern develop in Saul
that we saw in those following the day of Pentecost.
Saul fellowshipped with the disciples in Damascus (v. 19). Saul “immediately”
began proclaiming Christ in the synagogues (v. 20). Saul’s changed life was
evident to all (v. 21). Saul increased in his Christology and doctrine enough to
“confound the Jews” (v. 22).
Saul then left Damascus and went to the disciples in Jerusalem, and it was there
in Jerusalem that Saul made known his desire to join that group of believers.
Saul was “trying to associate with the disciples” even though they were afraid
of him and of his previous way of Pharisaical zeal (v. 26). This man, though
gifted like no other, was not a solo Christian. It was the grace of Christ that
produced the fruit “love” toward those he once persecuted and murdered in
Saul was not the average convert. He was well schooled, and previously held the
position of Pharisee. The Lord saw fit to use Saul in the same special calling
of an apostle as the other twelve (Acts 1:26). Saul’s desire was to “associate,”
or “glue himself to, unite himself to, cleave to, cling to, and join himself to”
the membership of the brethren at Jerusalem (Acts 9:26). Barnabas, already
having “associated” with those at Jerusalem (Acts 4:36, 37), was the one who
testified in favor of Saul’s converted life before them. It was afterward that
we read that Saul “was with them moving about freely in Jerusalem” (Acts 9:28).
And when Saul got into trouble with the Hellenistic Jews, it was his “brethren”
in the church who came to his rescue and aid.
What is the lesson for us?
The love of Christ poured out in the heart of men will evidence itself by
producing the same affections this “young man Saul” had for the church in
Jerusalem. Of all the letters in the New Testament, Paul’s letters are the most
tender. He addresses us with words such as “beloved children,” and he tells the
Philippians, “I have you in my heart.”
Do you love the “brethren, disciples, saints, children of God, holy ones, and
called out ones” in your church? Have you made known any intentions of desiring
to “associate” with your local body of “believers” and “disciples”? I know that
the majority in our reformed circles do not take “membership” lightly. And I
also know that people must allow themselves time before deciding which
congregation they will covenant to love and serve.
Saul was desiring to “associate” with those in Jerusalem because he had a
special call to the apostleship (Romans 1:1-5) and because the other twelve were
there. But today we do not have nor do we need a special call from Christ in
order to “associate” ourselves with the local church.
Can you say as Paul, “For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the
affection of Christ” (Philippians 1:8)? He goes on to say in verse 9, “And this
I pray, that YOUR love may still abound MORE and MORE…”
Dear believers, let me submit to you that we do not love one another in
Christendom as we ought for many reasons, but that I believe the main reason is
because much of modern evangelicalism has abandoned the theology of “church
membership.” A church filled with people who are not particularly committed to
the “body” certainly won’t be particularly committed to “me.” But it is evident
in scripture that after Saul was “filled with the Holy Spirit” he then sought
out the brethren to “associate” with them. And who has not grown to love those
within the local body even “by default”? Doesn’t it make sense, that if we love
Christ, and as we are conformed into the image of Christ, that we adorn
ourselves with His beauty and are made more lovely and lovable to one another?
Don’t even little children grow to love their little friends simply by just
being around them and playing with them? And it is no spiritual secret that if
we begin to “forsake our own assembling with one another,” we are susceptible to
seeing our love for the brethren grow weary simply because we are not around
them enough to be “encouraged to love and good deeds” by them?
How will you ladies know that a certain man will commit his life to YOU as a
husband and that his heart’s greatest desire and passion is to make YOU his own
unless he TELLS you? This kind of true love is always followed by a verbal and
public declaration and commitment in what we call it the wedding ceremony, isn’t
And so, too, we ought to delight in those who make that verbal and public
commitment to “join” with us. Who will not say that they have felt joy and love
in their hearts when a new family “joins” the church and makes it known to the
body in a public ceremony? Can you imagine how ecstatic the believers in
Jerusalem were when they found out that Saul, the “Pharisee,” did not want to
hurt them, but to “join” them in loving Christ and ministering to the body of
Christ? The reason the brethren were afraid of Saul initially was because all
they knew about him was his former way of life. Saul overcame that by
communicating his love to that body, and with the testimony of Barnabas.
And so, too, we must be willing to follow Paul’s example in loving “the
disciples,” “associating” with them, and doing good to all the household of God.
If our churches are to ever love sinners enough to melt their hearts, and if we
are to ever make them jealous of our God so that they might turn to Him, then we
must truly love one another as Paul loved those in Jerusalem.
May the Lord grant us a zeal to love Him and His disciples,
Walter Ortiz firstname.lastname@example.org
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering,
for He who promised is faithful.
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